MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — The Minnesota Twins, and general manager Terry Ryan, have always been hesitant to dive too deeply into the free agent pool in search of answers to the team's problems.
Ryan would much prefer to draft and develop players, grooming them as they rise through the farm system and reach the majors at affordable price points. But after watching the worst starting pitching staff in the majors get bludgeoned for two straight years, Ryan realized it was time to spend.
The first major step came on Tuesday, when the Twins introduced right-hander Ricky Nolasco, who finalized a $49 million, four-year contract that is the richest the team has given a free agent. The club also is finishing a $24 million, three-year deal with right-hander Phil Hughes that is expected to be announced later this week, marking a drastic turn from the pragmatic approach to free agency that has been the Twins' calling card.
After three straight seasons of at least 96 losses, the Twins simply couldn't afford to spend another winter shopping in the bargain bin.
"This isn't a change in philosophy," Ryan said. "We've always said if we need to do something now we have the resources to do it. ... If we were still in the Metrodome, this probably wouldn't happen. But we're in Target Field. We've got more revenue and resources, certainly. This is a nice opportunity. We need pitching. We went out and got it."
Nolasco made 33 starts last season for the Miami Marlins and Los Angeles Dodgers, going 13-11 with a 3.70 ERA over 199 1-3 innings with 165 strikeouts and 46 walks. He'll move to the front of Minnesota's starting staff, which had a majors-worst 5.26 ERA this year.
"I'm not putting any pressure on where I am in the order of the staff," Nolasco said. "I'm just taking the same mindset I have my whole career and taking the ball every fifth day and getting ready to compete."
Nolasco will make $12 million in each of the next four seasons. If he pitches 400 total innings over 2016 and 2017, a fifth season at $13 million would become guaranteed. He gets a limited no-trade provision, allowing him to select each year three teams he can't be dealt to without his consent.
Nolasco, 31 next week, has pitched at least 185 innings in six of the last seven seasons and went 8-3 with a 3.52 ERA for the Dodgers after being acquired from Florida during the season. That durability is one of the biggest reasons the Twins decided to sign him to such a big contract. Kevin Correia led the Twins starters with 185 1-3 innings this year, with Mike Pelfrey a distant second at 152 2-3.